Guest editorial by Tom Mallows
Don’t let David Moyes’ conspiracy theories fool you – his side are ready for Manchester United.
It has made an amusing sub-plot in the build up to this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final between Everton and Manchester United.
Steve Bennett, the official originally chosen to take charge of the match, had to pull out due to illness and Mike Riley was picked by the FA to replace him. It is that decision to choose the Yorkshire based whistle-blower that has caused so much furore this week.
It’s fair to say Riley doesn’t have the best relationship with Moyes or the Everton fans. It all stems to the final game of the 2002-03 season when, with the game locked at 1-1, Riley gave a dubious penalty for an apparent foul by Alan Stubbs on Man United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman duly dispatched the spot-kick to seal a 2-1 win for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
With Everton needing a win in that game to retain a sixth place and the final UEFA Cup spot they had held since the previous November, it is understandable perhaps that the fans’ frustrations focused on the official at the final whistle.
By this point Man United fans were familiar with the sight of Mike Riley’s outstretched finger pointing to the spot. The penalty at Goodison was the seventh spot-kick awarded by him to United in five games that season.
It was statistics such as these that, perhaps unsurprisingly, fanned the flames when it came to rumours about the Yorkshireman’s apparent Manchester United leanings. These rumours increased in 2004 when Riley let several reckless United challenges go unpunished against Arsenal. An openly aggressive Red Devil’s side proceeded to kick the Gunners out of the game en-route to a 2-0 Old Trafford win.
When questioned this week about those rumours Everton boss Moyes suggested it was an issue that should be brought up with the FA, not him. The canny Scot chose his words carefully, not implicating him in any accusation, but putting enough psychological pressure on the FA for them to release a statement, backing their man.
Now I would be very surprised if Mike Riley is a United fan, and if he is, that it actively affects his judgement on key decisions. But true or not, the pressure is on him now to prove his impartiality on Sunday.
Will it work in Everton’s favour? I guess we will have to wait and see. But the whole affair offers proof that David Moyes has mastered the art of mind games – a skill usually associated with his opposite number on Sunday.
As well as coaching and tactics, the role of the modern day manager is to try and achieve a mental edge over the opposition. The Riley affair and Moyes’ reaction to it has distracted press attention in the run up to the Toffees’ biggest game in years, allowing the Everton players to go about their business quietly and efficiently, easing a bit of mental pressure. Plus you never know, it may help the Toffees win a dodgy penalty.
If Moyes can transfer this small psychological victory onto the pitch on Sunday, United’s quintuple hopes maybe over quicker than many people expected.